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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Sunset, Montclair (detail) (1892) by George Inness (1825-1894)
Private Collection, David Findlay Jnr Fine Art, NYC, USA / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67528
Recording details: December 2005
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: November 2007
Total duration: 8 minutes 11 seconds

'Performances of this calibre emphasise Barber's stature in the mainstream of 20th-century song composers … Finley and Drake are impeccable (as are the Aronowitz Quartet in Dover Beach) … this is another outstanding Hyperion release that does credit to Barber in what will soon be a run-up to his centenary' (Gramophone)

'Gerald Finley is golden in tone, persuasive in phrasing, and unfailingly responsive to the sound and sense of the words. Julius Drake once more proves a strong and imaginative partner, and a quartet from the Aronowitz Ensemble makes a promising recording debut … a very satisfying recital' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The indefatigable Gerald Finley, who makes even the most straight-laced song shine … Julius Drake is his ever percipient partner, while the strings of the Aronowitz Ensemble provide an atmospheric backing for the most famous of these songs, Dover Beach' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The performances are outstanding. Canadian baritone Finley is in top form, showing total command of his voice with stunning hushed singing and ringing top notes. Drake is his reliable accompanist … everything about this recording is terrific' (American Record Guide)

'Baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake follow their outstanding disc of songs by Charles Ives with a collection devoted to a very different American composer. Samuel Barber's particularly personal brand of romanticism seems so natural and unforced, it's unnecessary to attach the prefix 'neo-' to it. Barber's gifts for elegant, melodic writing and his own early experiences as a singer (he once contemplated a career as a baritone) made him a natural songwriter, and two of the works here—the 10 settings of medieval Irish texts that make up his Hermit Songs Op 29, and the magically rapt version of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach—are among his finest achievements in any genre. The Mélodies Passagères, composed in the early 1950s for Pierre Bernac and Francis Poulenc, are a homage to French song; three other settings of James Joyce and some of Barber's songs to American texts are also included. Finley is a wonderfully persuasive advocate for all these songs, and shows that the best of them rank among the greatest of the 20th century' (The Guardian)

'Finley captures the 'eternal note of sadness' that the poet Matthew Arnold hears on the wave-dragged shingle on Dover Beach … Finley and Drake make an excellent partnership throughout' (The Times)

'In my book, Samuel Barber is one of the finest of all songwriters of the 20th century … every human emotion … is astutely conveyed. Gerald Finley knows this well, and here sings some of Barber's finest … ably assisted by the pianist Julius Drake, Finley communicates with finesse every poetic nuance, his golden baritone allied to rare poetic intelligence' (The Sunday Times)

'Having served the songs of Charles Ives with enormous distinction, the partnership of baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake shift artistic gear to explore works by one of America's greatest tunesmiths. Samuel Barber's lyrical writing and subtle feeling for expressive shading were matched in his songs by a Britten-like aptness for word-setting, which ideally suits Finley's compelling blend of emotional conviction and vocal sensibility. On the strength of his interpretation of the Hermit Songs alone, regardless of his majestic readings of Barber's Rilke settings and Dover Beach, Finley enables this album to command its price as one of the year's finest vocal releases. Unmissable' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Finley’s best work … this disc has an admirable program … Finley makes a firm and pleasing sound and he can command the nuances when necessary … Julius Drake’s accompaniments strike me as right and are a pleasure to hear' (Fanfare, USA)

'A CD of Barber's songs may, on the surface, seem like too much of a good thing, until you listen to Finley's magisterial survey … using his handsome baritone to explore the Britten-esque lyricism of the Hermit songs and the Francophone poetry of his Mélodies passagères' (Financial Times)

'Hearing the Hermit Songs in a man's voice, this man's voice, is little short of a revelation … there's a world of feeling in these 10 songs, and Finley, accompanied throughout by pianist Julius Drake in a way that would make Barber proud, burrows deeply into every niche … I held my breath before 'Sure on this shining night', my favorite Barber song of all, an ecstatic setting of a rapturous James Agee poem that's harder to bring off than its simple, swelling lines would suggest. Finley hit it out of the park' (Bay Area Reporter, USA)

'[Finley's] warm timbre, technical facility, fluid, natural phrasing, and conscientious expression brings an easy, unforced clarity to the texts, ideally characterizing each song without distracting mannerisms or undue dramatic inflections … it would be hard to imagine performances more purely beautiful, sensitive, and true to the music and poetry than Finley's' (ClassicsToday.com)

Dover Beach, Op 3
First line:
The sea is calm tonight
composer
1931; first performed in New York on 5 March 1933
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
While he sometimes dismissed his youthful works, Barber retained a special affection for Dover Beach Op 3; nearly fifty years after he first composed it, he remarked on the maturity of his setting of Matthew Arnold’s text and the timelessness of the poem, saying that the emotions evoked by both words and music seemed contemporary. Clearly the exalted pessimism of Arnold’s vision struck a resonant chord with Barber. The poem depicts human misery as grounded in the loss of religious faith, isolating each human being from his or her fellows. The sea’s ebb-tide, as seen from the beach, is the controlling metaphor: it stands for the retreating ‘sea of faith’ in whose place mere Nature can offer no comfort, only a confirmation of the human predicament. Barber’s setting begins as an atmospheric evocation of the calm sea seen at night in an austere D minor. But the pitiless processes of the tides causes the emotion to darken, and the music responds with denser, more painful harmonies. The central move to a hymn-like D major brings no relaxation; the timbres of the string quartet create a strongly plangent emotional effect, most of all at the tragic return to D minor and the climactic appeal ‘Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!’. The reprise of the opening music at the end is a daring stroke—Arnold’s ‘ignorant armies [that] clash by night’ would seem to demand more violent expression, but Barber stresses the indifference of nature in the face of human doubt.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007

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